Dog bite action right, says council

By Lawrence Gullery


Hastings District Council has defended its decision to prosecute a dog owner whose labrador bit a man's thumb last year.

Hastings man Des Hughes was found guilty this week of owning a dog that attacked, causing serious injury, after his dog bit a stranger at the front gate of his Hastings home on May 31, 2011.

Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule asked his staff to review the decision to prosecute Mr Hughes after the council's chief executive Ross McLeod said the local authority had made the right decision and the matter hinged on key evidence relating to where the attack occurred, which had been disputed in Hastings District Court.

"The victim alleges that the dog got out and attacked him on the footpath, that the dog was able to get out from underneath the gate of the property," Mr McLeod said.

"The owner of the dog disputes that version," he said.

The evidence provided by Mr Hughes' legal counsel said the victim was bitten after he touched the dog's nose which was protruding from under a closed front gate.

"There is absolutely no chance he could get under that gate, he was the best part of 50kg," Mr Hughes said.

Photographs taken by council staff shortly after the attack showed an area worn away underneath the gate, which appeared to be about 20cm. But Mr McLeod said photos published in the media a year later showed the gap under the fence had gone.

However, Mr Hughes claimed the council's photograph was misleading.

"The gap was just smaller than a pen, the angle at which that photo was taken makes it look larger.

"They were holding it out away from the gate.

Mr Hughes denied yesterday that anything had been done to fill in or cover over the gap beneath his gate.

Mr McLeod said he wanted to reassure responsible dog owners who were worried they may be put in the same situation.

"The law requires dog owners to have their dog under control. If someone has their dog in the back of their car and a person puts their hand through a small gap in the window, a prosecution would be unlikely, unless the dog was able to get out and attack."

Sentencing for Mr Hughes was adjourned after his lawyer told the court he'd uncovered an eye-witness to the incident who did not give evidence during the trial.

Mr McLeod said the council was not aware of the new evidence when it submitted its prosecution case to the court and had understood the only person there was the victim.

He said the council's animal control bylaws reflected the community's wish for a harder line on dog attacks.

Petition backs dog's owner

A petition has started asking for support opposing the court's guilty verdict handed down to Hastings man Des Hughes, after his pet dog bit a person on May 31, 2011.

The court said the dog was not under control at the time.

Feedback received by Hawke's Bay Today showed overwhelming support for Mr Hughes. Hastings woman Ginny Taft set up a petition asking people to support the statement: "Dogs being held accountable for lack of personal responsibility and are paying the price".

Other commentators were critical of Hastings District Council's use of the law which had allowed it to prosecute Mr Hughes. Most of the comments were based on Mr Hughes' claim that the victim was bitten when he touched the dog's nose protruding underneath a garden gate.

"The dog never attacked, the dog was attacked and it defended itself. If someone stuck their finger in your mouth would you bite it?" asked one.

A reader from Waipawa said: "You have got to be kidding. My dog is behind a farm gate, up a long driveway well away from the road. So you're telling me if someone walks all the way up my driveway and teases my dog through the gate causing her to snap in defence, I'm going to face losing [her dog]."

Tara Jardine from Hastings said: "The laws are too tough on dog owner. He [the dog] was confined."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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